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Feb
23

THERE IS BLOOD SPATTERED ON THE STREETS OF TRIPOLI….


After the air raids, Gaddafi’s death squads keep blood on Tripoli’s streets

Residents too terrified of mercenaries to collect victims’ bodies, but vigilante groups take over ‘open cities’ elsewhere

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* Angelique Chrisafis and Ian Black
* guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 22 February 2011 22.37 GMT
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Protesters in Tobruk Young Libyans celebrate in Tobruk, which has been declared an open town after security forces fled. Photograph: Asmaa Waguih/Reuters

On the eerily quiet streets of Tripoli, as the rain of Monday night gave way to sunshine on Tuesday morning, the macabre aftermath of Gaddafi’s forces’ air and ground attacks lay strewn on squares and curbsides for all to see.

Residents described bullet-ridden corpses slumped in streets of residential areas and the roads around Green Square. This was the remains of the “bloodbath”, one said. Relatives of the missing wanted to retrieve the dead for burial but locals said they were afraid to venture out to pick up the bodies.

Death squads of foreign mercenaries were patrolling streets and shooting at groups of people who ventured out, according to several witnesses.

“Men in brand new Mitsubishi cars without licence plates are shooting at groups of people, three or four, wherever they see them gathering outside,” said a resident of the Tripoli neighbourhood of Fashloum, a working class area where protesters had gathered in recent nights. “These are Gaddafi’s death squads.”

Another resident described traces of gunfire that had left pockmarks on the walls of buildings in Fashloum. There were makeshift barricades set up by locals to stop 4×4 vehicles carrying mercenaries and Gaddafi’s elite guard from entering residential streets and firing indiscriminately.

A relative of one Tripoli resident told the Guardian: “He went out to get water and bread and saw bodies in the street. There are corpses in the street and Gaddafi’s forces are not letting people pick them up. They are shooting people who gather outside, they are shooting the people who try to gather up the corpses.”

Mansour Sayf Al-Nasr, of the US-based Libyan Human Rights League, had gathered accounts from Tripoli residents. “People are asking around if anyone knows any doctors,” he said. “They are afraid to leave their homes to take the wounded to hospital because rumours are circulating that Gaddafi’s death squads are going to the hospitals to kill all the injured. Mercenaries and Gaddafi’s revolutionary guard are still on the streets shooting to kill. There’s a feeling it’s going to get worse now that Gaddafi has officially given the order to go out and kill everyone he doesn’t want on the street.”

Witnesses in Tripoli told Human Rights Watch that Libyan forces had fired “randomly” at protesters in the capital on Monday and Tuesday.

Phone lines were still down across Libya on Tuesday. Journalists relied on human rights and opposition groups who were gathering testimony, or relatives abroad who had managed to receive rare phone calls or emails from the capital.

One resident described in an email to Le Monde long queues at bakeries, while on Tripoli’s streets there was graffiti in Arabic calling for the uprising to continue. The resident had seen soldiers at a checkpoint on a roundabout and said people were talking and exchanging information in preparation for another night of defiant protests.

Many billboards and posters of Gaddafi were smashed or burned along a road to central Tripoli, “emboldening” protesters, a man who lived on the western outskirts of the capital told news agencies. Others described burned out buildings and cars. Several residents said they had heard helicopters overhead and gunshots ringing out in the streets.

Souhayr Belhassen, the Paris-based head of the International Federation of Human Rights, said Gaddafi’s militia, security forces and mercenaries were concentrated on Tripoli, and air raids and attacks with heavy weapons were still taking place in the capital and roads leading to it, taking in a radius of 200km.

She said the Libyan population was living “the real trauma of war” across the country, even in the eastern areas where the security forces had fled and cities were in the hands of opposition protesters – including in coastal Benghazi, Libya’s second city and the traditional rebel stronghold where the uprising began last week.

Belhassen said families were referring to the cities that had fallen to the opposition as “open towns”. She said these places had effectively been abandoned by the authorities. “A climate of insecurity reigns. The confrontation differs to that in Tripoli, but there isn’t calm there – residents are burying their dead, houses have been pillaged.”

Egyptians who had fled Benghazi for the border said that even though the city had been liberated there was a mood of chaos with hundreds dead after a week-long “massacre” by Gaddafi’s forces. There were said to be no police or public figures left and hastily convened residents’ committees were organising some neighbourhoods while the army was reportedly still present in the suburbs.

“Five people died on the street where I live,” Mohamed Jalaly, 40, told Reuters at Salum on his way to Cairo from Benghazi. “You leave Benghazi and then you have nothing but gangs and youths with weapons,” he said. “The way from Benghazi is extremely dangerous.”

Turkish construction workers in Benghazi, thousands of whom took refuge in a football stadium overnight, reported hearing shooting and explosions, along with the sound of funeral prayers, while outside on the streets youths were seen brandishing Kalashnikov rifles.

In Tobruk, near the Egyptian border, residents said the city had been in the hands of the people for three days and the army had abandoned Gaddafi to join the popular uprising. They said smoke rising above the city was from a munitions store bombed by troops loyal to one of Gaddafi’s sons.

Local vigilante groups had sprung up to defend neighbourhoods and some protesters appeared to have taken arms from security force caches. Agencies described rebels with knives, clubs and assault rifles guarding the streets. They said pharmacies and shops were opening and army members who had defected were directing traffic.

Around 200 people gathered in the central part of town chanting: “The people want the downfall of the regime” and “Down, down with Gaddafi”. Graffiti sprayed on walls declared: “Enough is enough.”

The Libyan side of the Egyptian border was controlled by armed anti-Gaddafi rebels. One held up a picture of Gaddafi, upside down, defaced with the words “the butcher tyrant, murderer of Libyans”.

In the eastern town of Al Bayda, one resident, 42-year-old Marai al-Mahry, said 26 people including his brother Ahmed had been shot dead on Monday night by Gaddafi loyalists.

“They shoot you just for walking on the street,” he said, sobbing uncontrollably as he described protesters being attacked with tanks and warplanes.

“The only thing we can do now is not give up, no surrender, no going back. We will die anyway, whether we like it or not. It is clear that they don’t care whether we live or not. This is genocide.” Describing the climate of fear created by the crackdown, he said: “Libyans are scared of their own shadows, children can’t sleep. It is like we are on another planet.”

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After the air raids, Gaddafi’s death squads keep blood on Tripoli’s streets
This article was published on guardian.co.uk at 22.37 GMT on Tuesday 22 February 2011. It was last modified at 22.37 GMT on Tuesday 22 February 2011.

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